Underlayments: Making the ‘sound’ choice

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By Louis Iannaco

The sound of silence was not only a hit song that propelled Simon & Garfunkel to musical prominence in the mid-1960s, it is also the ultimate goal of underlayment companies everywhere.

Whether it’s for commercial spaces where unwanted noise is considered public enemy No. 1 or for residences where attempts to make the home a fortress of solitude doesn’t quite work when you can’t hear yourself think, underlayments with effective sound deadening qualities are what end users and flooring dealers desire.

At Healthier Choice, sound performance is critical to its line of acoustical products because “much of our underlayment is installed in multistory complexes where unwanted noise is absorbed,” said Andy Stafford, marketing manager, “thus improving the quality of life for people living in those buildings.”

According to Kimberly Liemkeo, executive marketing and administrative manager for Pak- Lite USA, the firm’s past experience with sound dampening material in the non-flooring markets, such as automotive and commercial, have proven to be “invaluable to us in the flooring market. The company has access to new materials that most underlayment manufacturers do not and because of this we continue to lead the industry with innovative solutions. In some instances, these specialty materials can be modified to fit specific performance applications in the flooring market.”

Randy Dye, product manager, Leggett & Platt Carpet Cushion, agreed with Stafford and Liemkeo, and said acoustical performance is very important for underlayment “since one of the common complaints of hardwood, laminate and other engineered flooring is noise. A premium underlayment can certainly dampen noise inherent with these floors.”

As Duane Reimer, technical director at MP Global Products, noted, the sound insulating attributes the company engineers into its premium acoustic fiber underlayments are very important. “In this noisy world, a home should, at least when a family so desires, be as quiet a haven as possible. We want to contribute to that, one floor at a time.”

At Starline Associates, president and CEO Ray Rodriguez explained the unique characteristics inherent in the manufacturer’s Silent Blue product have been immensely important to its growth, “while we continue to test and improve the product with quarterly reviews and planning for enhancements in areas of sound control, moisture resistance and heat transfer.

“These attributes have also been incredibly important to the company because during the last eight years we’ve tested several other materials, looking to add to our product mix,” he explained, “but still haven’t come close to the sound control Silent Blue provides at the same low price point.”

The following is what some of the leading underlayment companies are doing in the area of sound reduction.


Healthier Choice

The company now offers two brands to combat sound: Sound Solution Premium Acoustical Underlayment and the all-new Healthier Choice Acoustical Underlayment. Both product lines offer excellent acoustical performance by absorbing noise on hard surfaces, Stafford said. “Both are approved for laminate and wood floors, but Healthier Choice Acoustical Underlayment is also approved for LVT and ceramic tile.”

Testing performed: “Our pro-ducts undergo a battery of tests conducted by third-party acoustics laboratory for IIC, STC and other various acoustic data,” he explained. Healthier Choice maintains an archive of testing data. For a copy, call 706.275.0345.


Leggett & Platt

The manufacturer offers several options. Its most popular products, Sound Master Plus and Quiet Elegance, feature acoustical performance designed to dampen noise, plus premium moisture barriers for moisture protection.

Testing performed: “Our products are tested for Impact Insulation Class (IIC), during which we test using a typical floor-ceiling assembly to better simulate today’s home construction,” Dye said. “However, one challenge for today’s consumer is the inability to easily compare acoustical performances of market products due to the lack of a standard for IIC floor-ceiling assembly.”


MP Global Products

The company’s recycled fiber-floor underlayments are carefully engineered to improve acoustic properties of the floor assembly by quieting impact sound, dampening ambient sound in the room and inhibiting sound from traveling into the room below, Reimer said. “All MP Global Products premium fiber acoustic underlayments exceed the IIC rating mandated by the International Building Code and meet or exceed the sound ratings commonly specified by architects in condos, high-rise apartment buildings and other multi-housing developments.”

As an example, QuietWalk for laminate, engineered wood and floating wood floors, features randomly air-laid filaments creating a capillary effect to cushion the floor, absorb sound, and help make laminate floors sound more like real wood, he said. “The underlayment is designed to draw sound in and deaden it, not deflect it, attenuating airborne sounds such as voices, TV and stereo and helping block impact sound. QuietWalk has IIC and STC ratings that far exceed typical minimum building code requirements and housing association standards.”

Testing performed: During research and development, MP Global’s products are independently tested to confirm they meet intended specifications. After that, it is a matter of maintaining quality control, Reimer pointed out. “Quality control testing is carefully monitored during the manufacturing process. It is performed daily for density and thickness, two metrics important for acoustic performance. Raw materials are also tested to confirm they meet specifications.”


Pak-Lite USA

The company pioneered acoustic underlayment more than 18 years ago when European-based manufacturers first introduced laminate (floating flooring) into the American marketplace, Liemkeo said. “At that point, the concern was primarily reflective sound within the room. The loud, clicky noise emanating from laminate flooring was a major concern for OEM manufacturers and their customers.”

Pak-Lite (PLI) developed products that changed the physical and often psychoacoustic perception of how laminate sounded, she explained. “In the last several years, sound transmission to lower rooms has become the primary concern with the trend toward increased high density housing starts and remodeling. PLI underlayments are specifically designed to reduce impact and airborne sound transmissions from upper rooms to lower rooms through advanced material technologies while still providing enhancement to reflective sound in the room.”

Testing performed: To its knowledge, she noted, PLI is the only company conducting psychoacoustic testing to determine in-room reflective sound quality. “Additionally, all our products are tested under ASTM standards like E-492 (Impact Isolation Class), E-90 (Sound Transmission Class) and Delta E-2179. These test results are available to our customers.”

Starline Associates

Silent Blue provides high sound control in a thin, lightweight and inexpensive product that has been used all over the U.S. as well as Canada and Australia with zero claims to date, Rodriguez noted. “Silent Blue is one of the few if not the only underlayment that provides all the independent laboratory results on our website and on literature for easy access. Both the retailer considering reselling and the end user can have all the data available with just a few clicks.”

Testing performed: The first tests begin in-house to ensure Starline has a product worth sending to independent laboratories for IIC, STC and Delta tests, he said. “Our in-house testing involves actual installations of the product with comparable high-end underlayment upgrades in rooms adjacent to the ones with Silent Blue. The test by other professionals in the most advanced independent laboratories available give us solid evidence that the product will make living on a floating floor more tolerable for the end user.”


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